By Eli Rosenberg and Herman Wong / The Washington Post
A police officer in Wichita, Kansas, fatally shot a man while responding to an emergency call that authorities now say was a tragic and senseless prank.
The 28-year-old man, whom officials did not immediately identify, was killed around 6:20 p.m. Thursday after police responded to a report that there had been a shooting and hostages taken at the house, Deputy Wichita Police Chief Troy Livingston said at a Friday news conference.
“Due to the actions of a prankster, we have an innocent victim,” Livingston said, calling it a case of “swatting.”
Tyler Barriss, 25, was arrested on Friday in connection with the case, Los Angeles police told The Washington Post.
Swatting, which has a long history in the online gaming world, refers to the practice of making an emergency call about a fake situation often involving a killing or hostages, in the hopes of sending police to the address of an adversary or random person.
In an interview with the Wichita Eagle, the slain man’s family identified him as Andrew Finch, a father of two, and said he was not armed.
“I heard my son scream, I got up and then I heard a shot,” his mother, Lisa Finch, told reporters Friday.
“What gives the cops the right to open fire?” Finch said. “Why didn’t they give him the same warning they gave us? That cop murdered my son over a false report.”
The officer who fired the fatal shot, a seven-year veteran of the force, has been placed on paid administrative leave, which is department policy. Police are investigating the circumstances of the call.
A person who first called the security desk at Wichita City Hall told a 911 operator that he had accidentally shot his father and was pointing a gun at his mother and brother.
“They were arguing and I shot him in the head and he’s not breathing anymore,” the caller said.
The individual later threatened to set the house on fire, then asked the operator, “Do you have my address correct?”
A man emerged from the house after police arrived. Livingston said police officers repeatedly told him to put his hands up, and one shot when he believed the man was reaching for a weapon. Police said the man was not armed.
The officers did not find anyone who had been taken hostage at the location, nor any deceased victims.
The family members were handcuffed and taken in police cruisers to be interviewed by officers at a station, the Eagle reported.
“The police said, ‘Come out with your hands up,’ ” Lisa Finch told the Eagle. “(The officer) took me, my roommate and my granddaughter, who witnessed the shooting and had to step over her dying uncle’s body.”
The man was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead at 7 p.m., Livingston said, adding that the caller continued to call 911 after officers had arrived at the scene.
The incident has drawn speculation, fueled by statements made by individuals on social media, that the emergency call was part of a prank made by a video-gamer in an argument. Swatting has been used as a tactic to harass and intimidate people across the country and is typically done with digital tools that disguise the caller’s location.
In other cases of apparent swatting, three families in Florida in January had to evacuate their homes after a detective received an anonymous email claiming bombs had been placed at the address.
A 20-year-old Maryland man was shot in the face with rubber bullets by police in 2015 after a fake hostage situation was reported at his home.
Rep. Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat, introduced an anti-swatting bill in 2015 – then was herself the victim of swatting. Armed officers in 2016 responded to an anonymous call claiming an active shooter was at Clark’s home.
UMG Gaming, which operates online gaming tournaments, said in an email to the Associated Press that the company is “doing everything we can to assist the authorities.”
Livingston said Wichita police have some promising leads.
Lisa Finch told the Eagle that her son did not play video games.
Andrew Finch’s aunt Lorrie Hernandez-Caballero told the Eagle she was shocked that a person would make such a prank call.
“How does it feel to be a murderer?” she said. “I can’t believe people do this on purpose.”